Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Medical Board of California did not violate patients’ right to privacy under Cal. Const. art. I, 1 when it obtained data from the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), California’s prescription drug monitoring program, without a warrant or subpoena supported by good cause during the course of investigating the patients’ physician, Dr. Alwin Carl Lewis. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal, which determined that the Board’s actions did not involve a significant intrusion on a privacy interest protected by the state Constitution’s privacy provision and, even if there was an invasion of privacy, it was justified. The Supreme Court held that even assuming the Board’s actions constituted a serious intrusion on a legally protected privacy interest, its review of Lewis’s patients’ CURES records was justified by the state’s dual interest in protecting the public from the unlawful use and diversion of a particularly dangerous class of prescription drugs and protecting patients from negligent or incompetent physicians. View "Lewis v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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The Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, issued a protocol addressing the process by which minors are found incompetent and later found to have attained competency. The Supreme Court of California held that although trial courts are not barred from adopting such protocols as guidance or as local rules, the Court of Appeal was correct that the protocol does not presumptively or otherwise define due process. The court declined to decide whether the length of detention in this case violated due process and instead held that any violation was not prejudicial in light of the juvenile court's finding of malingering. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "In re Albert C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder, holding that the trial court's admission of the confession of Defendant’s accomplice violated Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront her accusers because the jury was, in fact, asked to consider the accomplice’s confession for its truth. Defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder. On appeal, Defendant argued that the admission of her accomplice’s confession violated her constitutional right to confront her accomplice. The prosecution introduced the confession in rebuttal to Defendant’s trial testimony in which Defendant blamed the events on her accomplice, who had since died. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the accomplice’s confession was presented not to establish the truth of his account, in which he pinned much of the blame on Defendant, but instead to undermine Defendant’s competing account of their joint crime. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the prosecution did not use the accomplice’s un-cross-examined confession for the limited nonhearsay purpose of impeaching the statements Defendant had attributed to her accomplice in her testimony. Rather, the prosecution used the accomplice’s confession as evidence establishing a different account of the crime, which the prosecution repeatedly invited the jury to consider for its truth. View "People v. Hopson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of one count of first degree murder, thirteen counts of robbery, and two counts of attempted robbery and sentencing Defendant to death. The trial court found true the special circumstance allegation that Defendant committed the murder during the commission of a robbery. The conviction and sentence were rendered after bench trials for the guilt phases and penalty phases. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant entered a knowing and intelligent jury waiver; (2) because there was no basis for concluding that Defendant would have chosen a jury trial for the special circumstance allegation had the trial judge avoided an error under People v. Memro 700 P.2d 446 (Cal. 1985), the error was harmless; (3) Defendant’s waiver of a jury trial for the penalty phase was adequate, and no reaffirmation of the waiver before the state of the penalty phase was required; (4) the trial court did not err in considering certain aggravating evidence at the penalty phase; and (5) Defendant’s miscellaneous challenges to the death penalty are rejected. View "People v. Sivongxxay" on Justia Law

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During jury selection proceedings, three defendants joined in a Batson/Wheeler motion, arguing that the prosecutor improperly excluded prospective jurors on account of Hispanic ethnicity. The trial court denied the motion, finding the prosecutor’s reasons for exercising ten of sixteen peremptory challenges to remove Hispanic individuals from the jury panel to be neutral and nonpretextual. The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of Defendants’ joint Batson/Wheeler motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court’s finding that Defendants had not met their burden of proving intentional discrimination with respect to at least one excluded panelist was unreasonable in light of the record of voir dire proceedings, and therefore, Defendants were denied their right to a fair trial and their right to a trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under the state Constitution; and (2) the court of appeal erred in refusing to conduct a comparative juror analysis. View "People v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a claim alleging a discriminatory decision is not subject to a motion to strike simply because it contests an action or decision that was arrived at following speech of petition activity or that was thereafter communicated by means of speech or petitioning activity. Plaintiff, a tenure-track assistant professor, filed suit under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act for national origin discrimination and failure to receive a discrimination-free workplace after his application for tenure was denied. The Board of Trustees of the California State University responded with a motion to strike, arguing that the communications that led up to the decision to deny Plaintiff tenure were protected activities. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that “a claim may be struck only if the speech or petitioning activity itself is the wrong complained of and not just evidence of liability or a step leading to some different act for which liability is asserted.” View "Park v. Board of Trustees of California State University" on Justia Law

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Petitioner committed murder when he was sixteen years old and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The sentencing court did not give due consideration to the factors in Miller v. Alabama in imposing this sentence. Petitioner did not pursue an appeal. Here, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a resentencing hearing at which the court would properly integrate the Miller factors into its sentencing calculus. The superior court granted habeas corpus relief. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that Petitioner could seek recall of his sentence and resentencing to a term of life with the opportunity for parole pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1170(d)(2), which remedied any constitutional defect in Petitioner’s sentence and therefore precluded habeas corpus relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 1170(d)(2) does not provide an adequate remedy at law for Miller error, and Petitioner may obtain a Miller resentencing as a form of habeas corpus relief. Remanded for a resentencing hearing. View "In re Kristopher Kirchner" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder with the special circumstances of killing a witness, murder, in the commission of kidnapping, and lying in weight. The jury also found Defendant guilty of kidnapping, rape, and dissuading a witness. After a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death for the murder conviction. The trial court imposed a judgment of death. The Supreme Court reversed the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding for insufficient evidence but otherwise affirmed the judgment, holding (1) the evidence did not support the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding, but no other prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial; and (2) there was no prejudicial error during the penalty phase of trial. View "Poeple v. Becerrada" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. The jury found true special-circumstance allegations. After a penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death.The trial court denied Defendant’s motion for modification of his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial phase of trial or during the guilt phase of trial; (2) substantial evidence supported Defendant’s convictions; (3) no prejudicial error occurred during the penalty phase of trial; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of nonforcible lewd conduct. The trial court placed Defendant on probation, ordered him to register as a sex offender, mandated his participation in an approved sex offender management program, and imposed two probation conditions that were the subject of this appeal - (1) that Defendant waive any privilege against self-incrimination and participate in polygraph examinations, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(3); and (2) that Defendant waive any psychotherapist-patient privilege, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(4). Defendant appealed, arguing that conditioning probation on the waiver of his privilege against self-incrimination and on his participation in polygraph examinations violated his Fifth Amendment rights and, like the waiver of his psychotherapist-patient privilege, was unconstitutionally overbroad. The Court of Appeal upheld the validity of the subdivision (b)(4) and (b)(3) conditions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probation conditions challenged in this case were not unconstitutional where they enabled those charged with monitoring the probation to obtain the information they need while otherwise safeguarding the probation’s privacy and protecting the probation from compelled self-incrimination. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law